CPR for your workplace social network

Workplace social networks. Could they be one of the most maligned channels in the internal comms mix? Promoted as the panacea to our office email woes, in many organizations they have become a neglected push channel, managed by internal comms but largely ignored by the wider organization. In the most recent Gatehouse State of the Sector survey, 47 percent of global communicators reported that their social networks are not particularly or not at all effective, and indeed usage has dropped by 15 percent since last year’s survey.


However, we’re here to make the case for the enterprise social network (ESN). When used well, they can dramatically reduce the dreaded reply-all emails, be an effective tool for knowledge sharing, and build connection and engagement - especially for remote or non-desk workers.


If you’ve invested in an ESN, or you’re considering doing so, here are our top 5 tips for making this employee-centric channel work for you:

Toot toot, all leaders aboard! 

Gatehouse reports that in nearly a quarter of organizations, leaders are not supportive of, or active on ESN platforms. While social networks should always be considered a ground-up channel, employees look to leaders to set the example. And, let’s be real, most of us feel good about recognition from the boss, even if we don’t like to admit it. Ensuring leaders talk about, and are visible on, social networks is critical to increasing activity - especially in the early days.


So how do you get leaders to buy in? Many organizational leaders come from pre-social media generations, and may feel alienated or put off by a form of communicating that comes with a whole new set of rules. 


As a first step, you can lower barriers for leaders by not referring to these platforms as social channels. Come up with a new name, like digital engagement platform, online information sharing, or whatever sounds culturally right for your organization. It’s not being disingenuous: a little rebranding helps leaders to see that ESNs support information flow and the breaking down of organizational silos, rather than being an opportunity for workers to slack off. 


Next, get familiar with the data, because leaders will only invest their limited time and effort in something that’s likely to deliver a return for them. Most platform providers will have extensive data they can share, demonstrating the organizational benefits of their ESN, so ask your representative, or just do some googling, and present your leadership team with some solid information about why ESNs are good for business.


Once leaders are clear about the business case, you can support them to get involved by introducing some reverse mentoring. Identify champions who have a sound grasp of the platform as well as digital etiquette, to work with leaders to build their skills in this area. It’s a great way to break down generational barriers in the workplace, too. 

Show, don’t tell

Most people are inherently aware that an ESN comes with different behavioural norms than the platforms they use privately. This can create uncertainty and hesitation: is witty banter OK? How much emotion should I show? Is it weird to post a picture of my cat? 

The internal comms team can play a role by helping to set the tone. Engaging with users in an encouraging way, sensitively redirecting less appropriate interactions, and keeping things fun can all help.


It’s also important to actively create spaces where people feel comfortable to engage on the network. If you already have an ESN, take a look at what the platform is most commonly used for now, and help users to build on that momentum. For example, if people come to the ESN to find a subject matter expert, custom build a space where people can pose that question. If users have a great idea to share, but don’t know where to take it, build that space - and make sure that the right people know about it and respond. 


Internal Comms, back away from the social media

If your ESN is controlled by Internal Comms in a very hands on way, it will be seen as just another push channel for corporate-approved messages. As well as duplicating IC campaign efforts, this will put off users who expect social channels to be employee-led and organic. 

The great benefit of ESNs is in giving employees a voice, increasing two-way communication and providing an opportunity for continuous listening. If IC does all the talking, you’ll silence everyone else in the room. 

Instead, train champions across the business as community managers. Regular employees will be seen as more authentic users, and will more effectively be able to encourage online conversation amongst their peers. Bonus: this has the effect of substantially increasing your communications resources, with champions able to report back with insights and useful data to strengthen your approach. 

Authenticity or die

People like social media because it’s a way to project a particular image of themselves, and connect and engage with others. If your ESN is all work and no play, people will avoid it. 

The world is finally waking up to the importance of people feeling able to bring their whole selves to work, and an ESN can be the perfect place to facilitate the growth of authenticity in your culture. You can help things along by creating online spaces that people want to be a part of: diversity and inclusion networks, football interest groups, or a lunchtime book club. This can be a wonderful way for employees to connect with each other, even from the opposite ends of the world, and feel like they have a ‘work family’ who is interested in them as a person, not just as a job role.


Be social to get social

Many ESNs fail because early adopters share and engage with content, only to be met with the sound of crickets. In the social media world, this is akin to a public rejection, and many will hesitate before engaging again. 


Make sure that those who do engage feel welcome at the party: acknowledge feedback or ideas, and be sure to pass them on to the right groups who can respond appropriately. Laugh at people’s jokes. Share useful insights. Community managers are the perfect people to take on this role, acting as peers and supporters, rather than business users feeling like they’re developing an unnecessarily close relationship with Rachel in Internal Comms. 


We’d love to hear what you’ve done to make social channels work at your organization. Share your thoughts in the comments below - we promise we’ll reply.


And if you’d like some tailored advice about implementing an ESN, or breathing new life into your existing one, we’re here to help.